Enjoying the Tararua Ranges 

This post originally ran in Ōtaki Today in December 2019

The Ōtaki region has long been a gateway to the Tararua Ranges. Dramatically flanking the eastern edge of the province, the mountains rise from the plains of the Horowhenua and form a spine through the middle of the lower North Island. Our archive has a collection of items showing people enjoying the area, but also highlighting the dangers involved.

As spring and summer arrive, increasing numbers of people head to the hills for tramping and outdoor activities. The Ōtaki Forks campsite is a great, convenient starting point for this. We have recordings detailing fun and successful adventures in the bush. Footage from the Tararua Tramping Club (TTC) shows huts being built and the way people tramped in the 1930s.

There are also a number of personal recordings with cataloguing notes of ‘sunset over the ranges’, ‘tent and campsite; billy boiling on campfire’ and ‘trampers taking a refreshment break before continuing to climb hillside’.

Footage from 1968 captures the first National Mountain Safety Council Course for Youth Leaders. Members of the TTC instruct and show members how to cross a swift flowing river. Practice and education from those with experience can greatly increase your skill and enjoyment of the outdoors.

More somberly, a Radio Digest recording tells the story of a cross memorialising trampers who were killed in the World Wars. Erected on Mt Hector in 1950, all material was carried in by hand over two weekends and the cross still stands today.

Unfortunately, even in fine weather the ranges can be dangerous. Searching through the collections uncovers an alarming number of news stories about trampers becoming lost or stuck. There is usually a follow up item with an outcome – a few extra nights in the bush before rescue is not such a bad result. All too often though, people lose their lives.

The Ōtaki River Forks

Archives provide valuable opportunities to look to the past and learn from it. It can be sobering to follow the misfortunes of people whose time in the outdoors turned bad. Released in 1971, Such a Stupid Way to Die may be familiar to children of the 70s and 80s. It tells the story of a group of five who go tramping for the weekend. Due to a series of poor decisions, one person dies from exposure and hypothermia.

Produced by the National Film Unit, the short film is illustrative of a number of issues that can lead to fatal outcomes. The character, Thomas, skips breakfast, doesn’t have the correct outdoor gear and becomes tired and cold. As presenter Ray Henwood intones, ‘the best way to beat exposure is to stop it ever starting. This begins at the planning stage.’

The modern Outdoor Safety Code has five elements: plan your trip, tell someone your plan, be aware of the weather, know your limits, and take sufficient supplies. These points are important year-round and can save the life of you or someone you care about.

If you’re heading out this summer, remember to stay safe and plan ahead. If the weather is bad you can always experience the bush from your home via our online catalogue.

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